The Empty Rhetoric of a Moral Foreign Policy

 

When Communist China repatriated Hong Kong at the end of the British lease on the city in 1997, the plan was to allow the region to continue to operate as semi-autonomous from Beijing. As part of the British withdrawal agreement, Hong Kong would continue with self-rule until at least 2047. After all, it was going to be a cash-cow for the PRC so why mess things up?

Well, they’re trying to mess things up.

It all started last February when a Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his pregnant girlfriend while on holiday in Taiwan and successfully fled home. The accused remains free because the city and the island have no formal extradition agreement with each other. (Things are complicated even further because Beijing doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s independence either.) Now, the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong is pushing a bill to allow the courts to consider individual requests regardless of the status of extradition agreements. That has stoked fears that Beijing will use this to grab political and religious enemies of the Communist Party and put them on trial in the PRC, that is if they stand trial at all.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protest. Riot police have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

A prominent Conservative commentator took to Twitter this morning to lament that President Trump hasn’t said anything in support of the protesters, the implication being that this is a moral failure on the President’s part. This is nothing new, of course, the President’s critics often complain about his “unpresidential” style. It’s almost as if – no, check that, there’s no “almost” about it – meaningless words have replaced meaningful actions and results as the template of presidential success.

Obviously, part of this is the reality of living in the nuclear age. As I noted a few weeks ago, there’s a decided disconnect between rhetoric and real action in Washington. We want warlike talk and we want that talk to be a total substitute for war. This disconnect is what allows Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans alike to prattle on about “acts of war” from Russia without acts of war consequences.

Why is it so important to people for the President to express sentiments he has no intention or ability to back up with action? Is there some sort of absolution that comes with this? Is it the equivalent of a national security blanket or comfort food with no nutritional value? Whatever it is, the insistence upon it has become tiresome.

Published in Foreign Policy
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There are 24 comments.

  1. Judge Mental Member

    This reminds me of the media reaction to Obama telling Putin in regard to election tampering to “knock it off”. That’s Obama being tough in a way Trump never has.

    • #1
    • June 12, 2019, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  2. DonG Coolidge

    In the Era of Outrage, it is an outrage to not be outraged by something deemed outrageous to those who are outraged.

    • #2
    • June 12, 2019, at 1:01 PM PDT
    • 19 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor

    It’s because the Left thinks that intentions are the most important part of any situation. Even if they’re empty and insincere.

    • #3
    • June 12, 2019, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Susan QuinnIt’s because the Left thinks that intentions are the most important part of any situation. Even if they’re empty and insincere.

    That I understand. Style over substance has always been big on the left. So what’s the Right’s excuse?

    • #4
    • June 12, 2019, at 1:10 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Franco Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: It’s because the Left thinks that intentions are the most important part of any situation. Even if they’re empty and insincere.

    That I understand. Style over substance has always been big on the left. So what’s the Right’s excuse?

    The right, or some elements of it, want a world that is based on role-models. The President is a “good man” so we should be all be good – especially you Democrat’s. ( That’s why Trump upsets them so. They’ve lost that as their weapon of choice)

    And America is “good” and role-modeling for the world. All countries should be like us and citizens of the world will eventually love and understand us. Then there will be peace!

    • #5
    • June 12, 2019, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. Judge Mental Member

    Franco (View Comment):

    The right, or some elements of it, want a world that is based on role-models. The President is a “good man” so we should be all be good – especially you Democrat’s. ( That’s why Trump upsets them so. They’ve lost that as their weapon of choice)

     

    This gets harder when you also want to apply the “who would you rather have a beer with” standard. Think about your buddies over the years. Who was the most fun to drink with? Was he presidential? Would you elect that guy president?

    • #6
    • June 12, 2019, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. James Gawron Thatcher

    EJHill: Why is it so important to people for the President to express sentiments he has no intention or ability to back up with action? Is there some sort of absolution that comes with this? Is it the equivalent of a national security blanket or comfort food with no nutritional value? Whatever it is, the insistence upon it has become tiresome.

    EJ,

    I refer to this as the Adult Bedtime Story syndrome. Especially left wingers don’t seem to care very much about real results either in domestic policy or foreign policy. What they really want is an adult bedtime story. This is why they focus so much on the character of the politician. They want a politician who they “trust”. What they mean by this is that the politician tells them a feel-good adult bedtime story rather than the truth. What is Chamberlain doing when he waves the paper and tells the British people that he has brought them “peace in our time”. This is a perfect example of an adult bedtime story. Yes, British people, you can drift off to sleep imagining that your oh so good, oh so brilliant, oh so charming leader has secured for you peace for a whole generation. Of course, it is nothing but garbage but who cares as the object is to “feel good” and Chamberlain has made a significant portion of the electorate feel so very good.

    The true opposite of the adult bedtime story is Churchill’s speech. “I have nothing to offer but blood toil tears and sweat.” It is going to be miserable, it is going to take a long time, but we must do this no matter what the cost. This speech is strictly for adults. It isn’t meant to make you feel good. It is meant to make you accept reality and resolve to endure it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
    • June 12, 2019, at 2:02 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
  8. Mark Camp Member

    DonG (View Comment):

    In the Era of Outrage, it is an outrage to not be outraged by something deemed outrageous to those who are outraged.

    I really, really liked this Comment, DonG. I almost think that I know now what it must have been like that one Christmas Eve during WWI, when the troops laid down their rifles and sang “Silent Night” together.

    Ah well. Back to reality.

    • #8
    • June 12, 2019, at 2:08 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. Unsk Member

    Ya know Sundance at CTH has always said that Trump mimics Chinese behavior- says sweet nothings in public so the Chinese do not lose face, but behind the scenes brings the hammer down. 

    Trump is the first President in a long time to take the Chi-Com’s malevolence seriously and the first to do something serious about it.

    • #9
    • June 12, 2019, at 2:40 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  10. Stad Thatcher

    The Chicom treatment of Hong Kong is a relatively peaceful foreshadowing of what would happen if Taiwan were conquered. Maybe we should do a “Cuban Missile” scenario in reverse – put strategic nuke missiles on Taiwan for their own defense . . .

    • #10
    • June 12, 2019, at 2:41 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Percival Thatcher

    DonG (View Comment):

    In the Era of Outrage, it is an outrage to not be outraged by something deemed outrageous to those who are outraged.

    • #11
    • June 12, 2019, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    It is simple EJ: They hate Trump, and they hate all of us who support him.

    Has everyone watched the first Kingsman movie? How many of the Bulwark, and the Never Trumpers would have signed on with the bad guy?

    I say most of them. 

    • #12
    • June 12, 2019, at 4:46 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Basil Fawlty Member

    EJHill: Why is it so important to people for the President to express sentiments he has no intention or ability to back up with action? Is there some sort of absolution that comes with this? Is it the equivalent of a national security blanket or comfort food with no nutritional value? Whatever it is, the insistence upon it has become tiresome.

    The moral rhetoric of an empty foreign policy?

    • #13
    • June 12, 2019, at 5:03 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Brian Clendinen Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    It’s because the Left thinks that intentions are the most important part of any situation. Even if they’re empty and insincere.

    Don’t you know the saying. Intention not direction determins your destination. Harry Potter and Merlin live by this matra with their magic spells.

    • #14
    • June 12, 2019, at 5:09 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Brian Clendinen Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    The Chicom treatment of Hong Kong is a relatively peaceful foreshadowing of what would happen if Taiwan were conquered. Maybe we should do a “Cuban Missile” scenario in reverse – put strategic nuke missiles on Taiwan for their own defense . . .

    Yes yes a thousand yes’s. I have thought for years since the Crimea peninsula invasion by the Russians. We should also due this with Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. Only we need to give ownership of them to the country. So another president can’t take them away. They can only prevent the parts and maintenance on the nukes being sold to the countries.

    • #15
    • June 12, 2019, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Taras Coolidge

    Brian Clendinen (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    The Chicom treatment of Hong Kong is a relatively peaceful foreshadowing of what would happen if Taiwan were conquered. Maybe we should do a “Cuban Missile” scenario in reverse – put strategic nuke missiles on Taiwan for their own defense . . .

    Yes yes a thousand yes’s. I have thought for years since the Crimea peninsula invasion by the Russians. We should also due this with Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. Only we need to give ownership of them to the country. So another president can’t take them away. They can only prevent the parts and maintenance on the nukes being sold to the countries.

    Ukraine had nuclear weapons but traded them for praise — and empty assurances — from the “international community”.

    The story of Taiwan is even more pathetic. In 1976, and again in 1987, the United States government pressured Taiwan to stop developing nuclear weapons. The second time it happened, Taiwan was only a couple of years away from an A-bomb.

    This kind of foreign policy imbecility — disarming our friends while our enemies arm to the teeth — is usually associated with the Democratic Party, but in both cases these were Republican administrations.

    • #16
    • June 12, 2019, at 10:11 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Del Mar Dave Member

    The media want Trump to engage in virtue signaling, and then will castigate him for the effort.

    • #17
    • June 12, 2019, at 10:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. I Walton Member

    A little piece of Hong Kong economic freedom is probably useful to them, but political freedom? This was inevitable but it doesn’t threaten Hong Kong’s economic freedom until the economic contrast with Beijing is excessive. What that means depends on whose governing toward what purpose here and there. We can’t fix China nor change its nature but they must know what real expansion will cost them. It might be useful to re-read George Kennan. Making noises over inevitable reality is worse than useless.

    • #18
    • June 13, 2019, at 5:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Mark Camp Member

    Del Mar Dave (View Comment):

    The media want Trump to engage in virtue signaling, and then will castigate him for the effort.

    That would be an alert observation coming from anywhere in the US. But this is simply remarkable.

    Kowabunga, Sir.

     

    • #19
    • June 13, 2019, at 5:50 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Stad Thatcher

    Brian Clendinen (View Comment):
    Only we need to give ownership of them to the country.

    I know what you’re saying, and this is the big sticking point. If we did turn over ownership and operational control of strategic nuclear weapons to another country, we’d better make damn sure that country is stable and won’t turn into a basket case . . .

    • #20
    • June 13, 2019, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Franco Member

    These people, for the most part, are living in a completely virtual, abstract world. They then externalize this template and desire some abstract virtual response by our President to “counter” the menace and neutralize the situation for their psychological well-being. 

    Further, they believe the words of a President and general disdain from America is a magical force that deters, or at least punishes, bad behavior. The world to them is a giant diplomatic stage in which everyone’s competing for approval, especially of the US.

    • #21
    • June 13, 2019, at 7:16 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Mark Camp Member

    Before commenting, I will reminisce. In America, the President’s words had moral authority which reflected the defining values of the American people to the rest of the world. America was a shining city on a hill.

    Now back to the question at hand. I agree that that idea is completely inapplicable in this place: whatever you call this new pit that the (biological) sons and daughters of the Americans have dug out to feed and procreate in.

    Looking to the future, in America, by whatever name it will be known, it will be true again that the President’s words of moral leadership will be heard around the world, and give comfort to the oppressed and cause the wicked to curse their consciences, or tremble in fear if they have none.

    • #22
    • June 13, 2019, at 8:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Taras Coolidge

    Franco (View Comment):

    These people, for the most part, are living in a completely virtual, abstract world. They then externalize this template and desire some abstract virtual response by our President to “counter” the menace and neutralize the situation for their psychological well-being.

    Further, they believe the words of a President and general disdain from America is a magical force that deters, or at least punishes, bad behavior. The world to them is a giant diplomatic stage in which everyone’s competing for approval, especially of the US.

     Remember all the praise and approval Mrs. Obama received for taking a strong stance against Boko Haram kidnapping and enslaving school girls — on Twitter! Only mean-spirited and narrow-minded conservatives pointed out she hadn’t actually done anything.

     For people who live in a world of symbols, she had acted, in the sense that they understand action; like the proverbial “strong diplomatic note” in response to an actual invasion.

     Similarly, for these people what Donald Trump says about Russia is more important than what he actually does; e.g., kill Russian troops in Syria (where Obama had invited them), or give weapons to Ukraine with which to kill Russian troops (which Obama had vetoed), or damage Russia economically by exporting oil (where Obama tried to discourage fracking).

    • #23
    • June 13, 2019, at 9:11 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  24. Taras Coolidge

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Before commenting, I will reminisce. In America, the President’s words had moral authority which reflected the defining values of the American people to the rest of the world. America was a shining city on a hill.

    Now back to the question at hand. I agree that that idea is completely inapplicable in this place: whatever you call this new pit that the (biological) sons and daughters of the Americans have dug out to feed and procreate in.

    Looking to the future, in America, by whatever name it will be known, it will be true again that the President’s words of moral leadership will be heard around the world, and give comfort to the oppressed and cause the wicked to curse their consciences, or tremble in fear if they have none.

    “Tremble in fear if they have none.” I think that’s the real part of this. 

     When Thailand abolished slavery, it had little to do with moral suasion by Mrs. Anna Leonowens; much more to do with the rough treatment the European powers gave to kingdoms they considered uncivilized. 

     Given what we now know about JFK, of course, it’s pretty funny to talk about his “moral authority”.

    • #24
    • June 13, 2019, at 9:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like